This is the first wine I ever drank. It is, in fact, the first wine I have any memory of. In the 1970s, if you were a “serious” wine drinker in the United States, you drank French Beaujolais, California burgundy or chablis (which were not necessarily pinot noir or chardonnay), German liebfraumilch, Lancers and Mateus rose, or the Italian Bolla. My father, an Italophile, drank the Bolla.
Which meant I did, too. I brought it with me with when I went to someone’s house for dinner. I bought it to impress girls (one of my first big dates, actually). I had no idea whether the wine was any good. I knew very little about wine 30 years ago; the Bolla was wine, and that was good enough.
Bolla, as a brand, mostly disappeared in the 1990s. It was bought and sold several times, and I had not seen it in years. And then, at the grocery store this week, there it was. I checked with my Italian wine expert, who told me, yes, the current owners dusted the brand off, changed the label, and are bringing it back.
Memory is part of wine, as much as the grapes or the soil. This is one of Alfonso Cevola’s favorite themes, that it’s not just what the wine tastes like now, but what we remember of the tasting — who we were with, where we were, what we were doing when we tasted it. So when I opened the Bolla ($6, purchased), I was thinking about my dad and Chicago in the 1970s and the girls I bought it for. The Wine Curmudgeon was sipping and analyzing, but Jeff Siegel was remembering.
So maybe this is memory talking. Maybe the Bolla isn’t what I tasted the other day — young and disjointed, yes, but fresh and clean, with a funky Italian nose and lots of sour cherry fruit. It’s an incredible value at this price, a wine for winter stews and red meat and tomato sauce. And, of course, for memory.
? $10 wine: Volteo, five Spanish wines that combine quality, value and approachability. I especially liked the tempranillo and a white blend made with viura, viognier and sauvignon blanc (which I haven't reviewed yet, and might be better than the tempranillo). These wines will likely end up in the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame.
? Regional wine: Have someone on your list who likes wine, but can be difficult to buy for? Then think regional. There is New York riesling, Texas viognier, Virginia red blends, Missouri norton, New Mexican sparkling, and Pennsylvania chambourcin — to name just a few.
? A top-flight corkscrew: The best corkscrews are double-hinged — the part of the corkscrew that rests against the top of the bottle has two parts, which makes pulling the cork that much easier. Best yet, they cost as little as $10.
? Expensive wine: My standby is Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, a $50 wine that offers depth and complexity. It's white Burgundy, which means chardonnay, but not like chardonnay that most of us have ever had. My red wine choice is HDV's Belle Cousine, a $60 merlot blend from Napa made by Burgundy native Stephane Vivier.
? Dave McIntyre on books: The Washington Post wine columnist suggests efforts by importer Terry Thiese, writer Matt Kramer, and Laura Catena on Argentine wines. High praise for the Thiese book: "And if you wonder why wine matters so much to a loved one in your life, let Theise explain."
? Jon Bonne on wine: The San Francisco Chronicle wine writer offers a variety of gift strategies, and our old pal, Pine Ridge's chenin blanc-viognier blend, shows up as one of the best wines to bring to a party. Great description, too: "like wet pine needles after rain".
? Tom Johnson on kitsch: How does the proprietor of the Louisville Juice blog find this stuff — a moose horn wine glass, brass knuckles wine opener, and bathroom humor wine labels?
Suggestions for Thanksgiving wine, and please don't agonize over pairings and propriety and pinot noir. Thanksgiving is not about scoring points with the wine snobs, but about sharing what you have with friends and family. In other words, if Aunt Dorothy likes white zinfandel, who are you tell her she can't have any? More, after the jump:
? Wine blogs and Thanksgiving: There's a spirited discussion at Louisville Juice questioning whether wine blogs should offer Thanksgiving wine advice, and the consensus seems to be that it's kind of silly for us to do so. Or, as the blogger Thomas Pellechia wrote in a comment, "Bloggers are just like print writers – ? every holiday, every year, comes with a discussion of which wine to go with which food or a list of the best. All this proves to me is that print isn ?t dead ? writing is." Which seems an odd thing to say. People have questions about Thanksgiving wine, and it doesn't seem untoward that I — or any other wine writer — should try to answer them. Unless, of course, we're not writing for people who have questions about wine, which is another question entirely.
? Wine Spectator's top wines: A tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to my brother, Jim Siegel, for passing this along: The Spectator is releasing its top 10 wines of the year in a cyber-fest of video and on-line updates. It's subscription only, but you can see wines 8, 9, and 10 with a free link through Nov. 28. Two of those wines are $100 each, and the Spectator notes that the average price per bottle for the top 10 is $48. You may draw your own conclusions from the pricing.
? The end for Virginia's Kluge Estate: The winery, one of the best in the state, has been forced into bankruptcy, and an auction will be held on Dec. 8 to cover its $35 million in debts. Kluge will be missed. You can argue that its owners, Patricia Kluge and William Moses, made myriad bad business decisions, but they also made good wine. And it's always a shame when a winery that makes good wine goes out of business — and especially a winery that did so much for regional wine.
Wine makes a wonderful present, and I say this not just because the Wine Curmudgeon likes to get wine as a gift (white Burgundy, if anyone is reading). That’s because it requires thought and effort. You just can’t pick up the phone and order wine the way you can flowers.
So what does that thought and effort require? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you want to buy Mom wine — or anyone else, for any holiday or event, when it comes to it:
• Remember that the gift is for Mom, and not for you. If she likes white zinfandel, buy her white zinfandel, even if you think it’s the equivalent of pink iced tea.
• Keep Mom’s wine experience in mind. If she only drinks simple, easily available wines, there’s no need to buy her a 1981 Lafitte-Rothschild. This doesn’t mean you’re cheap; it just means you’re taking Mom’s palate into account.
• Know Mom’s taste in wines. If she likes soft white wines, don’t buy her big, tannic reds (and vice-versa). Again, the idea is to buy her something she’ll enjoy. And how do you tell what she likes, short of asking her and giving it away? Pay attention to what she orders in restaurants or has around the house.